4, 5 & 6 December 2012 – Homeward bound…….Business style!

Off to Heathrow we go…..

The long trip home commenced around 3pm as we left our London hotel and jumped on a tube at Paddington station. We figured if we got away early and beat most of the peak hour traffic on the tubes it would be easier, as we had several stops to collect all our (small mountain) of luggage. We were also hoping to get checked in at Heathrow with plenty of time to relax and have showers in the Business lounge before the late flight out.

The first tube from Paddington to St Pancras-Kings Cross station was uneventful. Anto dumped Astrid and I in a corner near the Picadilly line with the stroller and all the our luggage as he went over the the International station to pick up our bags that had been stored from the other weeks luggage dump from Paris. Astrid was by now over tired and wasn’t keen on sitting in a stroller in a tube station for about 45 minutes while Anto moved a man-mountain of luggage. She was entertained by passers by and eventually Anto arrived back with 4 large bags and already looked tired and sweaty. We managed to jump on a tube through to Heathrow…… with our usual style of load Nic and Astrid in with as much as I could carry and then Anto throwing bags onto the train quickly and reorganising once we jumped onboard……… we have this down to a fine art now! And with a strategic stashing of bags and strollers in every available space to try and keep exits clear we settled in for a long ride to the airport. It was only 24 stops…… I don’t know why we bothered to keep the luggage clear as every stop more and more people got on with huge bags (and surfboards) and in the end there was nowhere to sit or stand that wasn’t populated by bags. A couple of people going to stops other than the airport seemed a bit annoyed at the general chaos but most people weren’t fussed and just shuffled around to let people on and off as needed.

Astrid was getting a bit grumpy at this point but some standing between our legs and playing the ‘ticket game’ – where she gives a ticket (any ticket will do) to someone and they ‘check it’ (bonus points if the checking can simulate the tube / metro ticket machines – complete with ‘beep’s) and give it back. This can go on for up to 30 minutes at a time but results in hysterical laughter from Astrid and did amuse other passengers on the train! After what seemed like forever we arrived at Terminal 3 at Heathrow. When we caught the tube from Terminal 5 the previous day there were heaps of luggage trolleys at the tube station, of course there appeared to be none at Terminal 3 so we were left to somehow transport 4 wheelie bags, a sports bag, a backpack and a camera bag and a stroller, and an Astrid!. Not seemingly very doable. We managed to get the luggage through to the check-in area, which was a very, very, long way from the tube station and we finally acquired a luggage trolley. It was about 5.30pm and Anto again dumped Astrid and Nic in a corner with an ever increasingly annoyed Astrid as he headed back via tube to Terminal 5 to retrieve our remaining 2 bags from the Sofitel.

At this stage Astrid was getting very tired and over it all (as were we all). I tried to keep her entertained eating a packet of chips (the only thing available in a vending machine nearby) and waving to all the people with bags and the other bubs.  She was mostly amused by this but alternated between running off, not ideal when I was minding a pile of bags, and trying to have a sleep on the terminal floor.  Eventually Anto returned, I think it was close to 6.30pm and we had our last remaining two bags.  We did yet another repack and got out our pre-packed ‘plane clothes’ and tried to get out anything we needed for the trip. Anto attempted to automated check-in which is being trialled at Heathrow. Which of course resulted in us having to go to a counter anyway….

Here it is, the full pile of luggage:

Luckily our flight the whole way home was Business class which meant we had no problem with all our bags and we were all checked in and sent off to security.  Coming into Heathrow we realised their security screening is painful. In our tired and sleep deprived state we had missed getting out a few things in our hand luggage (like baby panadol and some water) so all our bags were held up which resulted in 20 minutes waiting around while watching security officers individually screen and repack other people toiletries. Finally out of security at about 7.30pm we headed, with a tired and hungry Astrid to the BA lounge for some dinner and relaxation before the big flight.

The dinner on offer was a good range of hot and cold foods and drinks and we quickly ate and tried to get Astrid to eat something. She obviously wasn’t keen as she even turned down offers of cheese, chips and dessert.  Luckily the BA lounge has a kids zone so she had fun running around in there and chatting to other small children (who subsequently ended up being near us on the plane). We utilised the shower facilities as it had been too long since our last shower and Astrid had a final run around the lounge with her bunny backpack and a bottle of milk before our long walk to board the plane.

London to Singapore…..
We had finally scored a Qantas A-380 for the trip home (the way over was only a boring 747!) and being Business class we were on the upper deck. There are about 90 Business seats and it takes up most of the upper deck, in a 2-2-2 configuration. We had two seats in the bulkhead and near a window and there was so much leg room you couldn’t possibly touch the wall.  There is heaps of storage compartments in the seat and next to wall and the seats were also big and comfy and had about a zillion different ways you could adjust them and they laid totally flat, and had an in-built massage, very nice!  For those people horrified that we would even consider flying Business class with a baby, there were at least 4 under two year olds (that we saw) in Business and several other children.  The poor guy who landed in the front row of our section (who we are pretty sure was at least a somewhat famous musician, but we couldn’t place him) was surrounded by a family with a baby and child, and us and Astrid on the other side. He didn’t look that happy about it at first…… I don’t blame him.

Astrid had almost fallen asleep drinking her milk in the BA lounge and sitting on my lap readying for take off she fell asleep silently and we managed to get her seat belt on her so she could rest until we managed to get her bassinet out once at altitude. It was now 9.30pm and she had been awake since about 10.40am so no wonder she was tired!  Take-off was very efficient and despite being at Heathrow we got away on time. Being a clear night you could see the line of planes through the sky, waiting to come in to land, a really cool sight. It was also very quiet on the upper deck so it was a pleasant experience getting to watch the lights of London disappear.  Of course the cabin crew helpfully bringing out drinks prior to take-off helped………

Once at altitude we got Astrid settled in her bassinet. Unlike the BA ‘rocker’ style seats we had on the way over (which were similar to a car seat or rocker that lays back) this was a more traditional bassinet. It was rated to 18kg and despite all the croissants Astrid is nowhere near that. She was however a little long for it so kind of had to sleep with either her legs tucked up or her upper body propped up. It turns out the 9month old (Abby) in the same row as us also didn’t fit that well so a 17 month old was pushing it!  Astrid managed to sleep through the dinner service and having only eaten a couple of hours before at the lounge, we weren’t that hungry but were wide awake and knew it was a long time til breakfast so we had dinner. Good decision as the food was fantastic on this leg.  I had a variety of salads with nice dressings, fresh warm bread and French butter, a mushroom fritatta and that was just Entree. Main was a ravioli with tomato sauce that was really nice (not reheated packet muck) and a dessert of chocolate mousse cake.  I only managed to finish about half, but with the wine and pre-dinner drinks I was pretty full.  Anto had a salad followed by a confit duck, with Potato dauphinoise  and a port reduction followed by a nice plate of quite good and smelly cheese (which Nic helpfully identified as ‘smelling quite a lot like feet’) of course with unlimited (frequently refilled) glasses of wine…..

We were helpfully handed out useful toiletries packs which actually contained nice moisturisers and lip balms and business class PJs. Most people put the PJs on but having just had a shower and changed a couple of hours prior I decided not to, and later regretted the decision given the amount of clothes I got covered in food due to a small child.  The toilet in front of where we were sitting was the biggest airplane toilet I have ever seem and you could hold a party in there, so we were looking forward to being able to change Astrid’s nappy in comfort. Currently most people were using it for PJ changing.

I decided to grab a bit of sleep (which was pretty easy when laying flat and in a noise free pod) while Anto was served copious amounts of alcohol and caffeinated beverages, while giving Astrid obligatory ‘shhhhhs’ when she stirred to keep her sleeping. After some shortish period of time Astrid decided she had enough of her squishy bassinet and tried to resettle on Anto. I slept a bit while she tried to nap on him, and he apparently sung many verses of ‘soft kitty’ but I gave up and ended up putting her in the seat with me. It isn’t quite wide enough for this and I ended up having to lie on my side squished up against the wall laying on my arm while someone stretched out next to me on her pillows. We did manage to get another 2 or 3 hours sleep though, something Anto failed to participate in as he was busy drinking and watching movies.  I eventually got sick of being squished and managed to Astrid into her bassinet propped up on some pillow where she slept for a bit longer.

The first leg of the flight seemed to go pretty quickly for me. It was dark (thanks to the window shades, we were flying into the sunrise) and quiet and most people were sleeping. The hosties kept walking past and commenting on the cute Astrid and noting they didn’t even know she was onboard unlike most of the other babies, who were probably less seasoned travellers.

It was a 13 hour flight and after about 8 or 9 hours Astrid had enough sleep time and woke up. We decided to give her the toddler meal from the previous night since she had barely eaten at the lounge and it was a while before the breakfast service.  Unlike the way over her meals had actually been ordered correctly and they held them for her til we were ready for them. Her first meal was an impressive array of different salads; boconcini and tomato and some pasta salad, as well as bread and butter. Then there was the hot sweet potato mash, some spinach and cream sauce and an apple pouch for dessert. She ate quite a bit of different bits and pieces, given she was hungry and it kept her amused for awhile.  We then kept her amused by letting her watch bananas in pyjamas on the in-flight entertainment while the other parent caught up on some blogging. The flight attendants also helpfully served nice coffee and salted caramel chocolate pops which kept us energised.

I don’t recall her being too grumpy for the rest of this leg. We took it in turns to take her for a walk to the lounge area which had a couch and some seats and magazines and a TV  It meant she could walk around and several other children would hang around down there too.  She also watched some playschool on the tablet and Anto managed to get an hour or so’s sleep while I watched TV with her.  Before we knew it breakfast service had started. They let you pre-nominate your breakfast selection and a time you would like it (and whether or not you want to be woken) we had figured we would be up since it was well and truly ‘day time’ for Miss A so we just had them bring ours out when they were ready to serve. Anto got scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and toast and creme fraiche and Astrid had fruit, toast, yoghurt and a few other bits and pieces while I helped her eat and got covered in food, necessitating an outfit change. Once she was finished I got my muesli and warm spiced french toast with cream (which was delicious) and a fruit scroll. Astrid ate some more of the toast and jam I had ordered for her not knowing whether or not she would get a separate meal.

Before we knew it, it was time to land in Singapore. Despite having flown in and out of Singapore several times we had always done so in the dark. Today it was light (7.30pm Singapore time) and we got a good view of all the ships in the harbour and the Palm trees swaying in the breeze. Alas, no stop-over for us this time around and we disembarked the plane and headed out into the airport, feeling our first rush of both warmth and humidity that we had felt in awhile.  As we left our plane was being loaded with the next lot of food and from the outside you can see just how big they are.

Despite the Qantas first class lounge (only marketing people would send Qantas club people/plebs to the business lounge, people travelling Business to the first class lounge and First Class travellers to the presidents lounge…) being down the other end of the airport, we had about an hour off the plane so we thought we would wander down there to stretch our legs and let Astrid have a run around. Once in the lounge we had a couple of drinks and spied about half our fellow passengers from our cabin doing the same thing. All too quickly it was time to head back to the plane and we commenced the long walk back with all our belongings. We noted it was now dark….. so no more nice views.  Security screening was pretty quick and painless and Astrid entertained all the security personnel as is customary for her in Singapore.

Singapore to Sydney…...

Back to our seats and we settled in for the next leg which was *only* 7 hours. Short compared to the previous 13 hour leg.  At this point Astrid had been awake for a large number of hours and she was ready for more sleep. All boarded and seatbelts fastened we proceeded to sit on the tarmac for about 40 minutes while some cargo was located and loaded. All the passengers were getting annoyed and several people got up to use the bathrooms before being told off by the flight crew. All the kids on-board were starting to get stroppy (we knew how they felt) and there was a chorus of screams throughout the plane. Astrid heartily participated for about 10 minutes but luckily we took off just as she was falling asleep.  So again she managed to sleep through take-off. Most of the other babies on the plane didn’t give in so easily.

Now familiar with the bassinet set-up protocol we settled her into her bassinet once we were at altitude. I did discover Astrid had fallen asleep on her drink-bottle and squirted it down my back and side so another outfit change was necessitated. It was after 10pm Singapore time and about lunchtime London time but we decided to stay awake for a bit and have yet another dinner.  This one wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but still really nice. Various tasty salads and a vegie and couscous curry with roti for me and a hearty Asian beef stew (which from memory had a much more impressive description) for Anto. Again we got nice fresh warm bread and butter.  We each settled into watching a movie (silly action movies for Anto and an Aussie comedy for me) and decided to try the dessert of mocha tart and some icecream. Not up to Paris standards, but pretty good for a plane.

After eating we both tried to get some sleep before the munchkin woke up. I only got about an hour but Anto did slightly better.  Astrid had slept through the first 3 hours or so of the flight, so a good effort.  Once up we entertained her with her dinner, which she mostly only ate the custard from and then we again went for a walk up to the lounge to chat with Abby the other baby from our row. The babies played happily for a couple of hours, feeding each other biscuits and Astrid sharing her toy ‘Violet’.  It seemed to pass the time well enough and we headed back to our cabin in time for breakfast (yes, more breakfast).  Astrid and Anto had a ham and cheese croissant and Astrid helpfully donated half her apple puree jar onto my pants.  By the time she was fed and we organised our gear and got everyone changed and drunk another 2 or 3 million cups of coffee it was almost time to land.

Just before 6.30am on the 6th of December we touched down in Sydney……. finally almost home, and feeling like we had already drunk way too much coffee for a day that had just begun.

With ‘fast track passes’ we were off the plane pretty quickly and through to duty free where we picked up a couple of bottles of alcohol and headed through to baggage claim, where all our bags and our stroller had arrived! Then off through immigration, which was quick and painless and onto customs and quarantine. We had pre-packed all our ‘declarable’ items into one suitcase to speed up the inevitable annoyance. They seem to have changed the quarantine procedure and you now get questioned by an officer based on what you have marked on your landing card. They then mark the card and refer you to the next lot of officers who tell you to proceed down a certain lane. We got lane 8, which mysteriously led to the exit despite us having bags full of food and wood. Apparently chocolate from Belgium, Switzerland and Paris and wood products from similar places aren’t worthy of their attention.

We were soon heading to domestic transfers and our luggage was on it’s way over to the other terminal while we boarded a very crowded bus for the short ride across the tarmac. A normally boring journey was made more interesting by one plane taking off over the bus as we departed followed by another coming into land, just metres above us. Gasps of awe were let out throughout the bus. Seeing big planes flying so close overhead was quite amusing.

Sydney – home……

Having only a two hour turn-around between our International and domestic flight we assumed we wouldn’t have any time to spare by the time we cleared customs and changed terminals. Having efficiently made it through immigration and customs we ended up with 40 mins to kill before our flight home. We headed off to the Qantas club and promised Astrid a run around and a drink. She informed us she wanted ‘choc’ (hot chocolate) and given how good she’d been we complied and also found a few snacks since it had been oh, about 2 hours, since our last breakfast.

Wearily we trudged to our next flight, on the homeward journey. The dash-8’s are never as impressive as the A-380s but they do the job. Our flight wasn’t full and we took off a few minutes early, unusual for Sydney. We were running so ahead of schedule that the entire flight took about 35 minutes and we landed almost 25 minutes ahead of schedule.  Astrid was good during the flight and despite being tired and ready for more sleep she seemed intrigued at the concept of going ‘home’. When we told her Grandma and Grandpa would be at the airport and we would be going home to see all her pets, she helpfully informed us they were all ‘gone!’. I guess in her world they were all gone……..

Off the plane and as always involving a walk across the tarmac, we embraced the sunshine, warmth and extremely bright light. Now we understand why people come to Australia and think it is so sunny. I think our eyes had readjusted to European gloominess in the two months away…….  Once at arrivals we were so ahead of schedule that our welcoming party wasn’t yet here. Astrid did have time to run around with her bunny backpack and her ‘Paris’ t-shirt on.

Once the grandparents had arrived it was time to head fit the luggage into 2 cars (we had around 130kg coming back, 58kg going over………..) and head home.  32 hours after leaving the hotel in London and we were home! The animals were pleased to see us (or haughtily ignore us for our extended absence) and our European adventure was over. Sadly, the unpacking and washing were just beginning but we were pleased to be home!

For those who want to see some of the things we came home with, posts will follow……….

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